By Hanna Batatu
The following is an excerpt from The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978).
Hanna Batatu, one of the greatest historians of modern Iraq, here describes Iraqi parliamentary elections during the era of British colonialism. It is sometimes forgotten that the British organized elections in a number of their colonial possessions, both for external show and in order to create a certain degree of internal cohesion and legitimacy. But these elections were highly orchestrated and manipulated, in order to hold in check the forces of secular nationalism. Altogether there were 12 parliamentary elections, in addition to the elections to the Constituent Assembly of 1924. Batatu here speaks of the later period, beginning in 1943, when Iraq was nominally sovereign and independent. Then, the threat of nationalism caused the British to rely even more on their conservative Iraqi allies, the traditional rural leadership.
In a formal sense, it is not correct to speak of the "assignment" of seats to the tribal chiefs, as the pretense of "free elections" was always maintained. But confidential official reports throw ample light on the actual method of choosing deputies in the tribal country. "The elections," wrote on the tenth of September, 1930, a British administrative inspector to the adviser of the Ministry of Interior, "generally can be graded into three stages. Firstly, the Qaim-maqam [subgovernor] maneuvers himself into as strong a position as he can by arranging for the right men to be balloted for on the Committee on Inspection. Secondly, the Qaim-maqam must arrange that a smart Committee man is sent to the out-stations to ensure that the shaiky does not become too powerful by electing as secondary electors all his own relations plus the coffee man and various other hangers-on attached to the mudil. Cases have been known of sheikhs manipulating the elections so that they controlled all the secondary votes in the tribute and thus in a position to auction thirty or more votes to the highest bidder After the second stage is properly arranged the setting is then ready for the third and final stage, i.e., the election of deputies, which, as every one knows, is conducted informally before the event by the Mutasarrif [governor] in the privacy of his office and that of the Qaim-maqam concerned."
The methods of the government scarcely improved in later years, despite the ending of the formality of indirect elections by Decree No. 6 of 1952. Except, on occasion, for some of the seats of the larger towns, royal Parliaments continued to be packed rather than elected, and to the end would possess neither moral force nor popular confidence.
More Information on British Colonialism and Repression in Iraq
More Information on the Historical Background of the Iraq Conflict
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